Kansas voters on Tuesday rejected an effort to remove abortion protections from the state constitution, a resounding win for the abortion rights movement in the first statewide electoral test since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
The amendment's failure lifted Democrats' hopes that the issue of abortion rights will motivate voters nationally in November's midterm elections. It will also prevent Kansas' Republican-led legislature from passing severe abortion restrictions.
“This is a titanic result for Kansas politics,” said Neal Allen, a political-science professor at Wichita State University.
“This should be a real wake-up call for abortion opponents ...When a total ban looks like a possibility, then you're going to get a lot of people to turn out and you're going to lose a lot of the more moderate supporters of abortion restrictions.” Political analysts had considered the amendment likely to pass, given that Republicans typically turn out in greater numbers for the state's primary elections than Democrats and independents.
But Tuesday's vote drew higher-than-expected turnout. With about 90% of the vote counted, the “vote no” campaign, which supported preserving abortion rights, garnered nearly 61% compared to 39% in favour of removing abortion protections from the state constitution, according to Edison Research.
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat who won her re-election primary on Tuesday, applauded the outcome.
“Kansans stood up for fundamental rights today. We rejected divisive legislation that jeopardised our economic future & put women's healthcare access at risk,” Kelly wrote on Twitter.
Kansas has become a key abortion access point in America's heartland. Patients travel to the state for abortions from Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and other states that have banned the procedure almost entirely since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, the 1973 decision that legalised abortion nationwide.
Kansas' Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the state constitution protected abortion rights. As a result, Kansas has maintained more lenient policies than other conservative neighbours.
The state allows abortion up to 22 weeks of pregnancy with several restrictions including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and mandatory parental consent for minors.
Kansas' ballot initiative is the first of several that will ask US voters to weigh in on abortion rights this year. Kentucky, California, Vermont and possibly Michigan will have abortion on the ballot this fall.
The successful “vote no” campaign in Kansas could offer a blueprint to abortion rights groups looking to harness voter energy in the wake of Roe's reversal, Allen said.
The referendum drew national attention and money. The Value Them Both Association, which supported the amendment, raised about $4.7 million this year, about two-thirds of that from regional Catholic dioceses, according to campaign finance data.
Kansans for Constitutional Freedom raised about $6.5 million including more than $1 million from Planned Parenthood groups.
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a national anti-abortion group, said it spent $1.4 million to promote the amendment and its team in Kansas canvassed 250,000 homes.
“Tonight’s loss is a huge disappointment for pro-life Kansans and Americans nationwide,” Mallory Carroll, a spokesperson for the group, said. “The stakes for the pro-life movement in the upcoming midterm elections could not be higher.”